Friday, 31 January 2014

What influence does Britain have?

Dean Acheson once described Britain as a country which [Speech at West Point (5 December 1962)] "has lost an Empire" but which "has not yet found a role". During the 1960s and 1970s it sought to find a role within Europe. The story of that search is well described in "Britain and European Unity".

(my apologies if you can't see the link to Amazon & John Young's book - I've had some problems getting it to display - but it is there!)

The course he led while I was studying for my MA at Leicester University (1995-7), allowed me to look at the background to Britain's applications to join what is now the EU. British politicians had been very dismissive of European efforts to rebuild the continent together after the Second World War. We didn't think it would last - we thought that we could continue to dominate the world stage alone. By 1962 many at the height of government had concluded that we needed to adapt - and Acheson's comments just rubbed in the fact of our loss of influence. So Britain sought to regain influence and economic power through close cooperation in Europe.

It didn't do too badly. Instead of falling behind and losing markets as we had in the 1950s and 1960s - Britain began to trade more with Europe. We did what we were best at - and Britain made a comeback (Ireland also profited from her membership). Local government in Britain, working with funding from Europe, saw cities rebuilt. (I remember Birmingham in the late 1960s - it was a decaying mess. I particularly remember the gloomy, run down area by the canal basins - which were spectacularly transformed with European funding). My MA dissertation looked at Labour MPs who backed the "No" campaign in 1975 - to find out whether & why their views had changed by the mid 1990s. Interestingly, those who recovered their political careers after losing in 1979 & returning to local government, had been impressed by how productive working with "Brussels" was, compared to working with Whitehall. European work was transforming & building for the future. Communities had better access to decision makers in Brussels than in London.

The growth of the Eurosceptics (or more accurately "Europhobes") has been the big political story of the past quarter century. Aided by a mainly anti-EU press, ordinary British people have gained the impression that Britain loses through its membership of the EU.

The pro-European "British Influence" has researched & produced a report on British Influence in Europe today. It is worth reading, and I hope it will inform the debate about our future.

It is available at https://s3.amazonaws.com/Britishinfluence/British_Influence_Scorecard.pdf

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